Exclusive Sneak Peek: Kylie Minogue "X"

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(ArjanWrites.com guest blogger Marc Andrews listened to Kylie Minogue's entire, much-anticipated new album "X" in Sydney yesterday. Exclusively for ArjanWrites.com, he shares his thoughts about Kylie's new work. Marc is a music writer based in Australia.)

A lot has happened to Kylie Minogue during the last few years, and most of it hasn't in any way been related to her music. One thing her tenth album, "X", will remind you though is that when it comes to pop, there's only a handful who can match the 39-year-old's track record for consistency over 20 years.

With Minogue's somewhat disappointing last album, 2003's "Body Language", she second-guessed a swerve towards a sleeker, more R&B-inspired sound, which didn't sit so comfortably with her pop heritage and also floundered due to its generally dull, workmanlike songs. Clearly with "X" Team Kylie has realised where she fits best into the music mosaic is when she's handed an uptempo track, compete with killer chorus, to embody a sexiness that appears neither contrived nor forced.

There are obvious parallels here to Madonna's "Confessions Of A Dance Floor" from 2005, which raided the best of 70s disco for a sparkling update that sold bucketloads and reinstated Mads as the Queen of Pop. Minogue, who's often toyed with darker, quirkier material ( e.g. "Slow", "Confide In Me", or even her whole "Impossible Princess" album from a decade ago), opts on "X" to step back in time for an early 80s retro-electro vibe. Well, it is better the devil you know, after all, so to speak.

Lead single and album starter "2 Hearts" ups the catchy ante with its stomping glam rock-meets-Goldfrapp posturing, complete with brain-hugging "woo-hoo-hoo" bits.

The other 12 "X" tracks generally appear to be a result of a slightly malfunctioning time machine that planned to land in 1984 somewhere between Madonna's debut and "Like A Virgin " albums, but since been abducted by "new romantic" alien life forms sprouting early Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Eurythmics.

Track two, "Like A Drug", borrows heavily from Visage's 1981 classic "Fade To Grey" and seems like a natural successor to the magnificence of "2 Hearts". "Wow" (not a cover of the Kate Bush classic) gives more than a friendly nod to Madonna's "Holiday" though overlaid with a plenty of modern day studio trickery. "Speakerphone" from Bloodshy & Avant, is Madonna's "Lucky Star" stuck in a blender with Cher's "Believe". That's a good thing, by the way. Hipster muso of the moment, Calvin Harris, gets even more acceptable in the 80s by producing "Heart Beat Rock", which could easily have fallen off his own album.

A real highlight is "All I See", from Cutfather and Jonas Jeberg, which has a more freestyle 80s groove that Rihanna probably would kill to own. It's made for radio and a cert as a future single, especially for the US market. Another treat you won't be able to get out of your head is "No More Rain", with its sweet Europop sheen. Then there's "The One", which is exactly like what you would expect if remix champs Freemasons got their hands on some of Minogue's early Stock Aitken Waterman material.

Strangely the Cathy Dennis/Guy Chambers contribution, "Sensitized", is one of the big let-downs. When you listen to Dennis' work on the new Sugababes album "Change" (including the current UK #1 "About You Now") you have to wonder how Minogue ended up with such a plodding album filler.

It's also one of three tracks from "X" (alongside "In My Arms" and "Stars") already heard by fans for months via a leaky laptop stolen from one of her UK record company execs. Of these, "In My Arms" is definitely the most noteworthy, with a chorus ranking amongst Minogue's most memorable. Reported and rumoured collaborations with Scissor Sisters, Boy George, Mylo and Groove Armada are M.I.A., but expect a brace of killer Kylie b-sides from this secret stash as "X" steamrolls along in the next 12 months or so.

If there's one truly disappointing aspect to "X", it's that so little of the real Kylie Minogue seeps though the 13 songs that made the final cut. It's only on the last track, the moody "Cosmic", that she peels back the airbrushed layers of foundation and heavily-stylized eye shadow and let's us into what has been going on in her life for the last few years. "It wasn't my choice to make the bed in which I laid," Minogue sings in a heartfelt voice over a looping slow beat, courtesy of writer/producer Eg White, as a reference to her 2005 breast cancer diagnosis. A little more real sentiment and a little less über-hipness (chief offender being "Nu-di-ty", which is as silly as the title suggests) and "X" could have been a great album. As it is, it's a good album, with at least four solid singles, including "2 Hearts", which is sure to join the pantheon of Kylie pop classics.

Kylie Minogue's "X" is released at the end of November in Europe and Australia.


 

October 19, 2007 in Kylie Minogue, Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (4)

Kylie Minogue's New Album "Kylie X" Leaks, Brief Review

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I love a nice surprise.

A ZIP package landed in my email box last night simply titled "Kylie X." It contained seven high quality and complete tracks, titled "Lose Control," "Stars," "When The Cats Away," "Sensitized," "In My Arms," "Fall For You" and "Excuse My French."

These are obviously brand-new Kylie Minogue tracks that are most likely taken from her upcoming new album "Kylie X" that is supposed to come out later this year. (I am not a 100% sure about the tracks' authenticity, but it is definitely Kylie and it is definitely new music.)

My label contacts are mum about what exactly is going on, but the rumor is that Kylie's peeps are deliberately and selectively leaking the record to create early buzz for the album. Clever. It is obviously an effective marketing technique that is no longer exclusive to the "tiny courageous" who are trying  to kickstart momentum for their new music (such as blog fave Robyn who shot to number one with the support of internet leaks.)

I can tell you that this unofficial "Kylie X" is sounding quite good. It is the same cheeky disco pop that is so typically Kylie with a few very unexpected twist and turns. Missing from this "Kylie X" sampler are "White Diamonds" and her duet with Just Jack, titled "I Talk Too Much," which will appear on the U.S. release of Jack's "Overtones."

A quick overview:

"Fall For You"
A futuristic dance stomper with a totally hot, high-energy chorus and a swirling synth riff. It has a similar energy as "Come Into My World" but with a higher bpm.

"Excuse My French"
A sexy and sleek electro-pop tune that reminds me of Kylie"s "Fever" phase.

"In My Arms"
The most unusual of the bunch, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is in fact the much-anticipated Calvin Harris production. It is best described as a very fresh, mid-tempo alternative dance tune that starts out as an indie rock track with live guitar and drums before it kicks into a dirty synth arrangement with a really tight groove and '80s type sound effects. This track is very, very good.

"Stars"
Kylie does her best pop-rock. Yeah, ladies and gentlemen. There is an electric guitar throughout the track that is emphasized during the emotive, near-epic chorus of the song.

"Lose Control"
This sounds very experimental. Minogue definitely ventures left-field here with a song full of special vocal effects, tweaked synths and bursting basslines. Still very stylish though. It is very restrained production-wise, not over the top in terms of sound and balance. This could very well be the Groove Armada-produced track. It's remarkable.

"Sensitized"
Another very hot and sexy track that includes a sample of somebody yelling "whoa!" in a high-pitched voice. A little odd, but cool.

"When The Cats Away"
This track sounds a bit generic to me. Not really that special. Would probably make a good b-side. The song has a very prominent, bouncing bassline that might make it a good track to remix with. 

August 17, 2007 in Kylie Minogue, Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (15)

Sneak Peek: Darren Hayes " This Delicate Thing We've Made"

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In preparation of my intervew with Darren Hayes in New York later this week, I have been listening to a 7-song sampler of the singer's upcoming album "This Delicate Thing We've Made." A few weeks ago listeners were already introduced to two new songs on Hayes' MySpace page, including "Step Into The Light" that is currently impacting dancefloors with its excellent remixes.

I have been looking forward to hearing new music from Darren. I was impressed by his candor and take on making music when I first met him in March 2006. It is the combination of hooky pop tunes, his yearning tenor vocals and accessible lyrics that make him the star he is. I also admire his drive to push his artistic boundaries by going into "left-field" directions as demonstrated by the experimentation on his previous album "The Tension & The Spark."

The 7 songs on this advance disc show that Hayes is at the top his game. The narratives are complex and the confessions are personal, but he packages it in such a way that it is still pop and never tedious or long-winded. Each of these 7 tracks is a gorgeous electro-pop production that is totally contemporary but has a lot of cool '80s ingredients. This stuff is top-notch, and yes, he might even break into the U.S. pop scene with this album. These songs are that impressive. A run-down of the tracks:

"Who Would Have Thought"
Darren posted this track on his MySpace page back in April. It is a moody electro-pop song that I interpret as a reflection of Hayes' intense personal journey of the last three years. "Who would have thought the tiny courageous? Who would have thought that love so belated could save me?," he sings. The tide has finally turned for Hayes who started his own Powdered Sugar record label, came out as a gay man and married his boyfriend Richard Cullen in 2006. His vocals soar, and he even added wedding bells towards the end of the track.

"Casey"

Amazing. This track (that runs almost 7 minutes) is hands down my favorite. It kicks off with Darren and heavy keyboard strings. Around the 3 minute mark it progresses into a pop-dance track that eventually crescendos into an anthemic Balearic-style trance-dance tune that gives me goose bumps. Darren talks about the year 1989. I wonder if this song refers to a first love with lyrics like "So tired of being underrated, don't take me home. I feel life when you come and save me. I was a mixed up kid and you were my sanity." Tiesto or Armin van Buuren will have a field-day remixing this track. (Update:  Lou writes Casey is Darren's sister.)

"On The Verge Of Something Wonderful"
This track follows the theme of "Who Would Have Thought" with Hayes' proclaiming his independence and freedom. His falsetto is layered over a simple melody that is guided by hard-hitting drums.

"Step Into The Light"
A haunting electronic piano introduces the song, setting the tone for what's to come. The song turns into a disco stomper with a Donna Summer "I Feel Love" type bass drone, which creates plenty of dancefloor drama. "Step in to the light. This stuff doesn't bite you. Just wanna be your friend," he sings.

"Me, Myself and (i)"
The disco bounce continues on this track. Hayes' sped up vocals are soulful, flirty and fun. Yeah, folks. Meet Diva Hayes. The disco ball spins the night away on this one. Hayes does something robotic that could pass for a rap. Hayes lets the good times roll, "I don't know what the future will bring, but I'm willing to sing until I drop."

"How To Build A Time Machine"
Hayes' was fascinated by the idea of time travel while making this record. It could be a "storytelling device to address regret and possibility for change. I kept obsessing over the notion that if I could travel back in time to the source of my sadness as a child, I would not choose to bring back the violence or tears. Instead I'd drag joy back," he says in his bio. That idea clearly inspired this song. It is a nearly acoustic production with vocals, guitar and a simple drum machine. Only the chorus includes some synth frills and the conclusion of the track features a wild orchestral, string section. Especially touching is that Darren appears to forgive his dad for the pain he caused him during his childhood, "I call my dad and I tell him I miss him." Intense.

"The Only One"
Listening to this song, you can't stop thinking that Darren wrote this for his husband Richard. It has a simple production with a basic layering that is reminiscent of Art of Noise's "Moments In Love." Hayes appears to be glued to the mic with his vocals sounding deformed to create emphasis I assume. He tells Richard some of the sweetest things, such as "No one can keep me from the danger that is myself [but you]."

June 10, 2007 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (22)

Sneak Peek: Mandy Moore "Wild Hope"

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Mandy Moore is one of the few Hollywood starlets who takes her career seriously. While some of her peers spent night after night partying at one of Hollywood's notorious hotspots, Moore has been making movies and recording new music. I listened to an advance copy of Moore's forthcoming new album "Wild Hope" this weekend. And let me tell you that this is no longer the clean & crisp pop starlet you think she is.

Moore, now 22, put her heart and soul into her upcoming new record "Wild Hope." Instead of relying on a hot Swedish producer to write more of the same catchy bubblepop, Moore decided to take full control and record an album that is less of a commodity and more of a personal affair. "It's somewhat of a foreign concept for me to care so much about a record," Moore says in a press release. "I really haven't had the personal involvment on anything in the past, not like I do with this one."

To put a fitting melody to her personal stories, Moore turned to an eclecting bunch of songwriters and producers. Recorded at Allaire Studios and produced by John Alagia, the man behind the board on John Mayer's 2001 debut "Room for Squares," people like Lori McKenna, Chantal Kreviazuk, The Weepies and Rachael Yamagata all lended a hand to "Wild Hope."

The result is a folk-inspired pop album that will surprise you. Yes, folk! This is nothing like the Moore you have heard before. Particularly, her vocals are remarkable. Her voice has matured and developed into something that is still pop but has a compelling country edge to it. Highlights are the single "Extraordinary," the gut-wrenching ballad "Gardenia and "A Few Days Down" that prominently displays her new vocal style.

This is one of those projects that poses a risk commercially, but delivers the goods artistically. Some of her younger fans might not appreciate this new sound, but it will surely interest many new listeners to hear the new Mandy Moore.

With the a brand-new sound, the time has come for Moore to also get rid of that clean-cut image. She should skip a shower, grow out her highlights or start riding a bad-ass motor cycle to fully complete her revamp.

Watch Mandy Moore "Wild Hope" EPK

May 7, 2007 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sneak Peek: Scissor Sisters "Ta-Dah"

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Scissor Sisters are not all about glittery costumes, campy tunes and Jake Shear's distinct falsetto vocals. In fact, the New York five piece has always used their fun disco ball antics to shine a light on a bigger picture. While culture wars are raging and popular music much too often embraces mediocrity, the Scissor Sisters boldly continue to spread a message of tolerance and individuality in their own unique way. It might sound cliche, but it is the group's colorful wrapper that makes it so compelling. You can stream the entire album on the group's MySpace page.

On their new record "Ta-Dah," Jake Shears, Babydaddy, Ana Matronic, Del Marquis and Paddy Boom represent an attitude that is both empowering and liberating. The album is filled with lyrics that spread the Scissor mantra with lines like "Do what you want 'cause it is your own sky," "It doesn't matter how you swing it" and eventually "You are going to be all right."

Two songs in particular seem pivotal on "Ta-Dah." The first one is "The Other Side" that includes a  spoken quote from Judy Garland in the track's outro. "I have a right to be in love/I have a right to be loved/I know there is an over the rainbow for me," the diva says in a vintage recording. Those words will mean something different to different people. For gays, it obviously has something to do with civil rights.

(Read more after the jump.)

"Everybody Wants The Same Thing" is another track that pretty much sums up the band's outlook on life, asking questions like "What is it that you want/What is that you give," and answering them with "Love is what I want/Love is what I want/That's how I'm gonna live." Scissor Sisters are all about seizing the day.

"Ta-Dah" also has a rare political moment. On "She's My Man," the group mocks George W. Bush and the actions after the Katrina hurricane disaster. "May the best queen hold the crown for the most bush sold on the levees," Shears sings. Touché, guys.

Musically, "Ta Dah" is a mish mash of good ole '70s style songwriting ("The Other Side," "Land Of A Thousand Words"), honky tonk ("Intermission," "I Can't Decide") and disco funk ("Light" and "Ooh" with a deliciously dirty bassline).

They even employed Stuart Price to give it some modern-day electro touches on "Kiss You Off," which features Ana Matronic on lead vocals. It is the only tune that prominently features the only female member of the group.

Scissor Sisters' music obviously embraces their "godfather" Elton John. And John loves Shears and the gang right back. He plays piano on the single "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" and "Intermission."

Another idol of the group gets his own homage on "Paul McCartney" with its savvy electro arrangement that would make Warren Fischer proud. Shears cannot put it any clearer when he croons, "I'm just in love with your sound."

Also part of the group's musical team is Carlos Alomar, a guitarist who is mostly known for his work with David Bowie, most notably "Fame."

Not only the music is a good reason to get a copy of "Ta-Dah." Reading the group's thank you's in the CD liner notes is insightful. Bob Geldoff, Kylie Minogue, Bono, Dan Savage, Rufus Wainwright, Heatherette, their favorite photographer Kevin Tachman and San Frantastic Queens are among the long list of people they thank. Full proof that the group is a firm staple of the hip and happening Manhattan social scene.

In conclusion, "Ta-Dah" is an impressive declaration of independence by a group that delivers a powerful message that is both bold and beautiful.

September 18, 2006 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (5)